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BW Businessworld

Choosing Great Leaders

Some say a company’s DNA is a blend of culture and strategy, others say it’s a blend of the way you are organised and how information flows

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One of the enigmas in life is the understanding of DNA.    

Three letters that have confused many around the world for centuries and perhaps the most difficult to decipher as a concept. Not many know the full form and not many understand the body and mind mechanism, and clearly not everyone can understand how it works!   

While we do understand that DNA is behind everything – do we really understand people’s DNA?  

The DNA Conundrum 

One of the key areas that Talent Acquisition Heads and Executive Search Partners explore is the DNA of  the candidate and look for matches with the organisation’s DNA.   

We often talk of successful leaders’ DNA.   

DNA is not what their accomplishments are!   

That’s the impact or effect of the DNA. That’s their CV!    

Beyond the CV

So, what causes these leaders to be successful?  It’s really about looking at the other side of these successful leaders!   

What drives them?
What makes them do what they do?
What do they like or dislike and why?
What are their fears?
What keeps them excited every morning?
What is their level of empathy or spirituality?
What makes them different?   

These are some of the questions that give us a glimpse of their DNA !   

In senior leadership hiring, DNA certainly becomes a key criterion! 

We find that it is not easy to understand someone’s DNA . That’s why there is only around 60 per cent success rate in matching an organisation with a candidate’s DNA. As for the 40 per cent, why is it that headhunters get it wrong so often?  

The DNA of the Candidate 

Reading the DNA is a tough job!   

Some say a company’s DNA is a blend of culture and strategy, others say it’s a blend of the way you are organised and how information flows

So how do you discover a DNA?   

An organisation’s DNA, for example, is surely not easy for many to share and understand. Many articles  have been written, studies conducted and models coined towards identifying a company’s DNA. Some say it’s a blend of culture and strategy, others say it’s a blend of the way you are organised and how information flows.   

Simply put, to define the DNA of an organisation we must start by looking around at the vision and values of the founders and key leaders. What problems did they want to solve? What was the purpose of their coming into being? Thereafter, a deeper dive into its strategic game plan, value system and cultural thread comes into the picture.   

An important element of an organisation’s DNA, specifically in the current times when one is facing a historic pandemic and crisis all around, is the DNA of the leadership manoeuvring the organisation in these times.    

An Hour of Reckoning

This pandemic has made us think! 

It will also separate the men from the boys. Leadership will be absolutely Key!   

Like detectives, we have to not only read people and organisations well but we have to have our own tools and understanding. And surely, it’s about how accurate and sharp your forensics are – that’s what will determine how good you are 

Leadership DNA in the current times, while akin to  an organisation’s, calls for these unique traits:    

Patience: As the world around us is moving with the speed of light, leaders need to develop restraint and be able to influence the stakeholders in the ecosystem to assess long term impacts of key events, and not take knee-jerk decisions. With an average CEO span reducing due to pressures of financial performance and shareholders’ returns, this core DNA trait will set inspirational leaders apart from the others. 

Intuition: This trait will differentiate success from failure – leaders who are able to derive decisions with “Intuition Based Wisdom” will take their organisations ahead of the curve rather  than merely manage the crisis of the pandemic for sustainability   

Agility: While this word has been a fad for many years, it has taken a significant position in the successful leader’s DNA construct in today’s times, as one has to balance patience with agility and this is a tough proposition. 

Leaders must have the agility to move fast and take advantage of the opportunities ahead of them by breaking out of classical formats. All this while using their intuition to not react on every event and possibility coming their way.

Aligning the DNAs

Any future Strategy must be aligned to the company’s own DNA as well as the marketplace.  The objectives have to tie in with how the company as a whole will behave under different circumstances. Any best practices or structures put together need to be consistent with the DNA of the company.  

Finally, DNA is not only restricted to people and organisations!   

Cities have a DNA of their own! Countries too, as we all know, have a certain DNA! Even such a diverse country like India has its own DNA! Indian people, no matter which part of India they come from, behave differently from people from other countries – even their neighbours!   

An Art and a Science 

Understanding DNA is as much an Art as a Science. 

Understanding DNA is to be like a Sherlock Holmes!   

Like detectives, we have to not only read people and organisations well but we have to have our own tools and understanding. And surely, it’s about how accurate and sharp your forensics are – that’s what will determine how good you are in matching people to organisations.

 Like Richard Dawkins very nicely put it, “DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music!”  

This article was first published in the print issue of (25 June- 09 July) BW Businessworld. Click Here to Subscribe to BW Businessworld magazine.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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Sunandan Bhanja Chaudhury

The author is Managing Partner-Executive Access (India) Pvt Ltd

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Manu Narang Wadhwa

The author is CHRO, Sony Pictures Network

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